The Language of Cancer

I’ve had so much support coming from all corners since my diagnosis. It’s staggering, a little surprising, and deeply reassuring about the amount of goodness in the world. I appreciate every ounce of it.


There’s always a “but,” isn’t there? The “but” is that some messages resonate more deeply with me than others.

There’s a very common language of cancer out there that people employ. I haven’t studied linguistics, but it seems to have a lot in common with the way one would discuss war. It’s all about “fighting the battle,” telling cancer to “F**k off,” being strong in a militaristic way. It’s all very angry, and somehow masculine, and it usually doesn’t feel right for me.

Now, please don’t mistake this as me preferring weakness, opting to succumb to cancer willingly, singing kumbaya as I do. No. It’s just that strength to me does not equate to anger.

Cancer is just cells that have gotten confused. It’s not personal. I understand the “F cancer” sentiment of friends and family. I don’t mean to censor anyone who finds this helpful. Getting angry at them and telling them to F-off used to feel satisfying when I was trying to express how upset I was about someone else’s cancer. But now that it’s my cancer, it mostly just expends a lot of energy that I don’t have to spare. I’m not living in a fantasy world of rainbows and unicorns. I do get angry sometimes. But, in general, I’m trying to gather my strength and focus on the cells that are functioning properly; help them to heal me, and accept the sometimes difficult treatments I need to repair and restore balance in my body.

A cancer-survivor friend of mine pointed out that she always felt bad that war-like language only left room for absolutes – you’re either a winner or a loser. But with cancer, there are so many people out there, myself included, who have to find a middle ground. At Stage 4, I hope for a miraculous total disappearance of my disease, a clear “win.” But I know that I must also prepare and figure out how to live with it, hopefully for an extended period of time. One doctor diagramed the situation bluntly: on a piece of paper he wrote Stage 1, 2, 3, 4 and then drew a line between 3 and 4 and said “everything in front of this line we try to cure,” …awkward pause… “everything on the other side we try to manage.” I suppose that sounds nicer than “incurable.” Tomato, tomahto. So, I find myself in a place where management is the goal (and a realistic possibility). I may never get to declare a clear victory in the way many people are thinking, or at least speaking about this. Does that mean I lose? No. I need to find words that allow room for a different understanding of a successful way to approach this.

Rather than fighting against something, I find it more powerful to fight for something. If you’re looking to support someone like me consider sending strength, not to slay a perceived opponent, but strength to restore balance, to find peace, power and wholeness inside themselves amidst a whole lot of shitty, scary fucking chaos. (See, don’t worry, there’s still plenty of room for cursing on this side of the fence too).